When it comes to Chaga and Reishi mushroom, the key differences are in which organ systems they support.
Traditionally, chaga mushroom is used to treat intestinal and stomach disorders. Chaga mushrooms work to support the digestive system and improve the microbial diversity within the gastrointestinal tract.
Reishi mushroom is a potent heart and liver tonic. Reishi mushrooms offer hepatoprotective properties and as a nervine as it protects and supports the nervous system.
CHAGA – A BRIEF HISTORY
The history of Chaga mushroom dates back to Ancient Persia and Avicenna, a well-known physician and early father of modern medicine.
Chaga grows symbiotically on birch trees. Traditionally, Chaga tea was used in folk medicine throughout Russia and Siberia, it’s home of origin, to treat gastrointestinal and cardiovascular diseases. Chaga mushroom tea became assimilated into Western medicine and interest throughout the 1960’s.
This great Siberian adaptogen was popularised after Aleksander Solzhenitsyn’s novel titled the Cancer Ward, explored the anti-tumour and anti-cancer properties of Chaga mushroom sparking a new worldwide interest.
We can look at Chinese history and see Chaga utilised within Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to nourish the three treasures – Jing, Qi and Shen, uplifting and restoring an individual’s wellbeing and optimal health.
In modern Western times, Chaga extract is classified as an adaptogenic medicinal mushroom and traditionally used to nourish the immune system, support gastrointestinal imbalances and acts as a potent antioxidant that helps protect cells and DNA from free radicals and accelerated aging.
THE MAIN BENEFITS OF CHAGA MUSHROOM EXTRACTS
- Antioxidant benefits
Chaga mushroom is one of the most potent antioxidant superfoods on the planet. Chaga overtakes ORAC values of other well-known antioxidants like Acai Berry and Turmeric root.
It’s all well and good to talk about antioxidants but I think it’s important to understand why dietary antioxidants are so powerful. When our cells and mitochondria complete their constant tasks of creating cellular energy, transforming compounds, engulfing pathogens; they produce free radicals.
Free radicals are unstable cells which, if we take it back to high school chemistry, are missing an electron in their outer shell. This means these free radicals are out searching for electrons to fill their outer shell so they can be complete and stable. When these free radicals (hydrogen peroxide, nitrogen species, oxidative species) fail to find that missing electron, they damage cellular DNA, destroying cells and drive cell death, inflammation, organ and tissue damage and potentially cancer.
Antioxidants are the hero to this equation by providing that extra electron.
Pro-oxidants can include alcohol, plant oils like corn, soy and vegetable, UV rays from the sun, radiation from X-rays, viruses and bacterial infections, air pollution with industries like mechanics and mining, smog, cigarette’s and passive smoking exposure.
By adding in super antioxidants such as Chaga which stimulate and increase the production of our own antioxidant compounds; Glutathione, SOD and catalase we protect our DNA and our health.
- Anti-aging properties
It’s well known that antioxidants are anti-aging compounds. Free radicals increase premature cell death, interrupt cell function and structure and drive accelerated signs of ageing; pain, degeneration, fatigue, a lowered immune system and the physical signs of ageing, such as wrinkles.
I love the topic of anti-aging because it gets into fascinating topics such as telomeres and sirtuins which is covered in depth by incredible scientists such as David Sinclair, Rhonda Patrick and Elizabeth Blackburn.
When we break it down, ageing is the disruption to cell function and structure and the inability of stem cells and our cells to replicate and replace old cells.
Each cell has its own unique renewing life cycle, our skin is every 28-30 days, our intestinal cells is every 3-5 days and neurons actually don’t have a known lifespan yet.
When we talk about anti-aging, we’re discussing superfoods such as Chaga mushroom that coming in on that antioxidant level to protect the DNA of these cells, enabling that DNA to be copied and new, fresh cells to be made.
Telomeres are also part of the anti-aging discussion. They are best described as the caps on the end of strands of DNA, like the plastic caps on shoelaces, to keep it from unravelling.
This is where nutrigenomics come in, how nutrients from our food interplays with genes; and by consuming specific foods such as Chaga mushroom to protect our telomeres, preserving our DNA and our anti-aging ability.
The same applies to sirtuins which are key defence proteins in our cells that are activated by super antioxidants like kale, berries, beets, chaga mushroom, cacao, red cabbage and many deep coloured vegetables
By consuming more antioxidant rich foods in your diet, you’re able to prevent cells from ageing too quickly and thus, reduce the physical signs of ageing.
- Inflammation reduction benefits
Inflammation is another key part of this antioxidant – anti-aging puzzle. Inflammation drives pro-oxidant creation, degrades telomeres and accelerates cell damage and cell death.
Inflammation is also at the root of all symptoms, imbalances and disease states. We need inflammation, just like we need stress for our survival and the function of our immune system, however, when inflammation becomes chronic in the body or out of control, it disrupts key pathways in our body, which ultimately starts to manifest into symptoms.
Symptoms of inflammation range from headaches, IBS and gastrointestinal disturbances, anxiety, physical pain, diabetes, atherosclerosis, an overburdened liver, acne and more.
Chaga mushroom contains anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce the release and activation of inflammatory pathways, such as NF-Kappa-B and COX pathways which create pro-inflammatory compounds like TNFa and IL-6 that drive inflammation and thus ageing and disease.
- Positive empirical research regarding effect in treating colon cancer
The effect of Chaga mushroom for the treatment of colon cancer dates back to the folk medicine times in Russia and Poland. Chaga contains betulinic acid, an important triterpenoid compound that has shown to have potential anti-cancer and anti-tumour effects (1).
Numerous studies within the last 10 years have shown that extracts of I. obliquus (Chaga Mushroom) inhibited activity and the proliferation of human colon cancer cells, and induced apoptosis of tumour cells in vitro as well as in mouse models (3,4), with Ergosterol peroxide – a polysaccharide in Chaga being a key compound in its anti-cancer effects (4, 5, 6, 7).
- Skin health, gut health and cardiovascular benefits
Chaga is also rich in melanin and zinc – two important compounds that nourishes skin health, enhances immune health and supports reproductive health, respectively.
Chaga mushroom contains polysaccharides that also function as prebiotics, increasing the levels of beneficial bacteria such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus species, and decreasing unfavourable species.
Additionally, Chaga mushroom may support blood pressure and has also shown to reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels, improving cardiovascular function and circulation.
REISHI – A BRIEF HISTORY
Reishi mushrooms have been a foundational herb and important adaptogen in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years. Labelled as the “mushroom of immortality”, Reishi was traditionally only reserved for the Emperor and royal family, elevating its status to that of a royalty herb.
Reishi mushroom is one of the most incredible adaptogens and medicinal mushrooms. The history of Reishi mushrooms date back to Ancient China being utilized as a longevity tonic and to restore and balance Shen.
Shen translates as one’s spirit or emotional balance. Traditionally, the benefits of Reishi are used to improve sleep, strengthens the heart, improve cognition and reduce stress and anxiety – all manifestations of a Shen imbalance.
The health benefits of Reishi was also used to treat those with deficient Qi and blood, effectively building strength and stamina.
In modern times, Reishi mushroom extract powder has splashed onto the mainstream wearing its adaptogen and functional food cape proudly – being used to strengthen immune function, support adrenal fatigue and burnout, improve insomnia and sleep disturbances.
THE MAIN BENEFITS OF REISHI MUSHROOM EXTRACTS
- Immune system boost
When it comes to the immune system, Reishi mushroom has shown to support both the innate and adaptive immune system, up-regulate monocytes, macrophage and T-cell activity. This means Reishi can help effectively fight off bacteria, viruses and cancer cells (2).
Being a potent adaptogen, Reishi modulates the immune system and can down-regulate an overactive immune system as is seen in autoimmune disease, allergies and skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis (2).
Reishi mushroom contains polysaccharides, particularly beta glucans, that have has shown potential anti-cancer effects, and has traditional links for treating cancer in ancient Chinese times. Reishi also contains triterpenes that have anti-cancer effects in individuals with breast, lung and prostate cancer (2).
Stress is a key suppressor of the immune system. Reishi mushroom is known as the ultimate anti-stress herb that helps support the nervous system, the HPA axis, and lowers an overactive central nervous system – as seen in the fight or flight response, further enhancing the immune function.
- Mood stabilizer
Being a traditional Shen tonic, Reishi has been used to restore emotional balance, calm the mind, reduce stress and support the nervous system and digestive health – all of which plays a role in the creation of neurotransmitters and elevating mood.
I don’t like to look at mood from a purely biological perspective, because we know energy, whether it’s positive or negative has the ability to shift our mood, just like a good song or a fight with a partner can instantly shift our mood.
Because of its Shen promoting and balancing qualities, Reishi mushroom really brings in this “other” and holistic approach to stabilizing one’s mood. Reishi strengthens the heart chakra, crown chakra and our sense of self, enabling us to feel more centred, balanced and safe.
Biologically and physically speaking, as a potent antioxidant, Reishi decreases inflammation that can disrupt the production of neurotransmitters and inflammatory mediators that influence our mood.
- Effective in combating oxidative stress
As we’ve explored with Chaga mushroom, oxidative stress is driven by free radicals – those unstable cells that damage DNA and cells. Reishi is an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory mushroom that helps reduce oxidative stress and the degenerative effects it has on the body.
Being the supreme protector that it is, Reishi mushroom has the ability to protect the body from external pollutants, chemicals, viruses, and help balance the pro-oxidant / anti-oxidant seesaw that we need to thrive. Reishi also through this elicits it’s anti-ageing and longevity effects.
- Soothes allergies and boosts energy and brain health
Reishi mushroom may also possess anti-allergic qualities. Reishi reduces histamine release improving allergies such as hayfever, eczema and asthma. Reishi is also anti-fungal, a nervine and is neuroprotective, supporting the nervous system and boosting healthy energy levels and cognition.
THE KEY SIMILARITIES
There are some key similarities between Chaga and Reishi mushroom. These benefits may include;
- Antioxidant Properties
- Anti-Inflammatory Properties
- Immune System Modulating
- Lowers Blood Cholesterol
- Anti-Tumour and Anti-Cancer Effects
- Support Nervous System
- Supports Heart, Liver, Kidneys and Brain
Reishi mushroom is an ideal superfood
- for exercise recovery due to its ability to balance the central nervous system, calmative effects and improves sleep quality which is fundamental to fast exercise recovery.
- For boosting immune system due to higher levels of polysaccharides (long-chain sugars) than Chaga mushroom. Reishi is richer in beta glucans that effectively stimulate and enhance the immune system.
- Reishi Mushroom has been shown to potentially be effective in treating and preventing prostate, lung, colon and breast cancers (1, 2, 8, 9).
Chaga mushroom may be effective against:
1) melanomas, malignant brain tumors, ovarian cancers and colon cancer (1-7).
Both Chaga and Reishi mushroom have shown potential for fighting cancer.
- Powell, Martin – Medicinal Mushrooms – A Clinical Guide
- Winston, David and Maimes, Steven – Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief
- Antitumor activity of water extract of a mushroom, Inonotus obliquus, against HT‐29 human colon cancer cells – https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ptr.2836
- Ergosterol peroxide from Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) exhibits anti-cancer activity by down-regulation of the β-catenin pathway in colorectal cancer – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378874115300477
- Inonotus obliquus – from folk medicine to clinical use –https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2225411020309809
- European Medicinal Mushrooms: Do They Have Potential for Modern Medicine? – An update – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/336998685_European_Medicinal_Mushrooms_Do_They_Have_Potential_For_Modern_Medicine_-_An_update
- The pharmacological potential and possible molecular mechanisms of action of Inonotus obliquus from preclinical studies – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31209936/
- Anticancer Effects of Ganoderma lucidum: A Review of Scientific Evidence – https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1207/s15327914nc5301_2
- Anti-cancer properties of triterpenoids isolated from Ganoderma lucidum – a review – https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1517/13543784.2013.805202
Dip. Herbal Medicine